It is so difficult to fit this book into anyone genre. It could be historical, being set just after World War Two in post-war Britain but it has far stronger elements of the supernatural than I would contemplate if it were other author, and there is a bit of the psychology of the characters to boot.
Dr Faraday first visits Hundreds Hall in rural Warwickshire as a young boy where he accompanied his mother to the elegant mansion. We first meet him though when he returns as a General Practioner to visit a young servant girl who is laid up in bed who mentions something strange which Dr Faraday swiftly dismisses. However, it isn’t long before he becomes a more frequent visitor over time when he becomes bewitched by the household, and by Hundreds Hall itself.
The wonderful storytelling is enacted through the eyes of this disappointed middle-aged GP, Dr Faraday, who has got to the stage in life where he wonders quite how everything has passed him by. He still lives in cramped rooms, never having the means or the need to invest in anything more. He has his close friends which are married but little else, beyond his work to fill the hours of his day but a family of his own has eluded him.
Normally I am very anti anything supernatural in a book, something I wonder if Sarah Waters was aware of, because although this is for those who want it to be, a ghost story, it can almost be read as a series of events which it is perhaps easiest to blame on the supernatural. Well that’s my justification for enjoying this book quite as much as I did – the rest of you can all enjoy a super scary ghost story to frighten the bejeebers out of you!
The household consists of the elderly Mrs Ayers, her son Roderick who has recently returned from the war and her daughter, the spinsterish Caroline. It is clear from the outset that this is a household who have fallen upon hard times. The Hall is much diminished since the days when Dr Faraday’s had that childhood visit, the retinue of staff have fallen away leaving just a housemaid Betty and Mrs Rush, the daily woman. With many of the rooms locked up those that remain in use are literally disintegrating around the family, with wallpaper peeling and the rain finding holes to drip through the roof. Ultimately this is a character driven novel, set at a particular point in history and the tale that unfolds is disturbing in the extreme as small events become more frequent causing disquiet to spread to every nook and cranny of Hundreds Hall
As is her trademark the lives of all involved in this tale are detailed to the minutest degree, the only author I know who can make each action, gesture and speech add something to the story when put into the hands of many, would promote a grumble about filling rather than substance from me. Instead this author makes these small details add something, not only in terms of raising the tension, but telling us more than would appear about each one of the story-dwellers. The tension she promotes raises steadily right until the end, an ending that I didn’t suspect, but now I’ve read it was most fitting.
Whilst this isn’t my favourite of this author’s books, there was so much to enjoy in all those little details, although I was glad to be reading it in the bright sunshine, rather than on a gloomy winter’s evening.